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Your health and the natural environment

Woman dancing in a wheat field
Woman dancing in a wheat field

The places where we live, work and play can improve or undermine our health.

Have you ever thought about the links between how our towns and cities are designed and managed affects our choices? For example, whether you use a car or public transport, or cycle or walk depends on roads and the services available to you. And our exposure to public health risks in our neighbourhoods (for example poker machine venues and fast-food outlets) also affects our health, as communities, and as individuals.

So, the environment you live in can have a negative impact on your health. We’re also learning about the very direct ways in which the environment can make you well, especially the natural environment.

For example, research has shown that taking exercise in the natural environment is good for your mental health.

Just the physical activity alone is good for us, wherever we do it. There are psychological benefits to physical activity, in fact, exercise can work as well as antidepressants for some people.[1] But did you know it works even better if you exercise in the natural environment?  

There is an environmental/mental health connection. Research has shown that doing activity in a natural environment produces greater mental health benefits than physical activity in other environments. It is so helpful, that it doesn’t even have to be huge exposure to the natural environment to get that benefit. Even exercising just once a week in the natural environment substantially reduces the risk of poor mental health.[2]

And it doesn’t have to be high intensity exercise. Research has found walking in nature is good for your mental health and positivity and lowers levels of depression and feelings of stress.

Even just looking at plants and flowers nourishes a sense of calm and wellbeing. A study was done comparing the recovery of surgery patients, comparing the experiences of people whose windows gave them a view of trees, with those whose windows looked out on brick walls. People with a view of trees have statistically shorter hospitalisations, less need for pain medications and fewer negative comments in the nurses’ notes, compared with patients who have views of bricks. [3] 

Tasmanian women know this well. When we ask them ‘what helps you have good health and wellbeing?” the first answer, time and again, is: the environment (‘being able to walk on the mountain’, ‘where I live’, ‘being able to go into the bush’, ‘my garden’.)

Natural environments protect public health and make us feel better.


[1] “Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression”, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, 2nd February, 2021,

[2] Mitchell, R “Is physical activity in natural environments better for mental health than physical activity in other environments?” Social Science and Medicine, Vol 91, August 2013, Pp 130-134

[3] Ulrich RS. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. 1984;224:420–421. [PubMed] [Reference list]